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VOL. 131 | NO. 209 | Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Launch Party At Brooks To Celebrate Big Star Book

By Andy Meek

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So much has changed since the images were taken, when the camera captured the long-haired Memphis power pop band Big Star in its short-lived prime and the road ahead seemed long and full of musical promise.

A newly published book of photographs, “Big Star - Isolated in the Light,” celebrates the legacy of the iconic Memphis band. It’s being celebrated with a launch party Thursday, Oct. 20 at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

(Michael O’Brien)

That more than 200 of those photographs of the band, including some of its members post-breakup, have been collected and bound in a limited-edition book published this week is a testament to many things.

Foremost among them, the publication of “Big Star, Isolated in the Light” – which includes images from photographers like Michael O’Brien, William Eggleston and others – is a celebration of a Memphis band whose influence remains pervasive some 40 years even after the group flamed out in its first incarnation.

The collaborators behind the book project, the release of which is being celebrated with a bash at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on Oct. 20, are Donna Ranieri and Fabrice Couillerot - a photographer and graphic designer, respectively.

The launch of the book and the timing of the Thursday event - which will be attended by Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and David Bell, the brother of late Big Star co-founder Chris Bell - coincides with several items of news about the group.

This year, for example, marks the 50th anniversary of Ardent Studios, the Memphis recording studio where Big Star recorded its three albums.

Also recently, Omnivore Recordings reissued Big Star’s third and final album, in a package called “Complete Third.”

Ranieri said she and Couillerot are happy to have been able to add one more product to the lineup of Big Star music and other mementos over the years to help keep the band’s legacy and its music alive.

“When we became friends and spent time together talking about the things we loved, one of them was Big Star,” Ranieri said. “It was kind of ironic. We’re different ages, we grew up in different countries, but it was really interesting. We both had such an emotional connection to the music.”

The book, which Ranieri calls their “Valentine to people who love Big Star,” has been some five years in the making. It runs 176 pages and includes, among other things, new interviews with some of the photographers as well as Stephens and Bell.

All of the photos included have been re-scanned and restored from original negatives, transparencies and prints.

The book chronicles the story of the band as well as some of the solo projects of the Big Star songwriting team of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. For their part, Couillerot and Ranieri fell in love with everything about the band - the music, lyrics, sound, everything.

“The melodies, they’re amazing,” Couillerot said. “The production of the records - I’m so impressed. All those years, they haven’t aged at all. The lyrics. I’m more of a Chris Bell fan than an Alex Chilton fan, but I loved the fact the two of them - the two voices together, it’s magic to me.”

The Oct. 20 event at the Brooks Museum will include a panel discussion as well as a book signing. Copies of the book will also be available for sale.

Stephens, these days an executive at Ardent, was happy to reflect on the band’s legacy when asked about interest surrounding things like the book and record reissue.

“Very grateful and thrilled that the music does endure,” he said. “At the basis of it all is Alex’s raw emotional delivery of songs reflecting where he was in his life at the time.”

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